Patch management is the underlying strategy that dictates how and when new pieces of code designed to improve a system — known as patches — are installed on an existing software system. It requires a number of skills and disciplines designed to ensure the installation of a patch works as it should and has the desired impact of improving the existing system.

The tasks required in patch management can include establishing and maintaining a working knowledge of both existing and new patches, discerning which types of patches are suited to particular systems, and making sure installation is carried out correctly. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — it's necessary to test the system with the installed patch to ensure it has the intended impact and doesn't cause detrimental performance or security vulnerabilities.

In a company, these tasks typically fall to an in-house IT expert, but for a private user, it's often a question of choosing to download and install when a patch or upgrade is available for installation. Sometimes it's necessary to take the guesswork out of the decision by relying on patch management software, such as the software options developed by Kaspersky Labs.

Why Is It Needed?

No matter how new a software is, upgrades are already in development to both improve how it operates and protect it from emerging cyber threats. These improvements are called patches and include pieces of code that are integrated into existing software.

Software development techniques are constantly evolving, and this creates two issues: A system can become outdated or even defunct very quickly, and — even more seriously — it can become susceptible to cyberattacks. As software systems evolve, the skills of cyber attackers keep pace, creating a game of cat and mouse as cyber criminals learn to exploit vulnerabilities in a system and then disseminate that information to fellow hackers.

To counter this, software developers seal breaches with new code, but to be effective, it has to be installed quickly. Indeed, the information that a new patch is available often alerts hackers to the existence of vulnerabilities.

Patch Management Problems and Solutions

A patch is a quick fix for a system problem as opposed to a complete root and stem redesign of a software product, known as a running repair. As a result, it can sometimes cause issues in functionality if not installed correctly. To counter this, it may be necessary to take simple precautions before and after installation to ensure system operation isn't compromised. This could include making backups of existing systems and testing patches on non-critical systems before full implementation.

Although traditionally it has fallen on individuals to decide if installing a patch with new code is necessary, patch management software like solutions developed by Kaspersky now take the guesswork out of the process. This type of software analyzes an existing system's shortfalls — particularly in terms of inadequacy in the face of emerging security threats — so the user can upgrade only specific parts of code, lessening the likelihood of patches interfering with wider functionality and causing more problems than they solve.

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